So the plan yesterday was to sit down and do a column on college football’s coaching hot stove. Again, that was the plan, until I actually sat down to write. At which point instead of doing a hot-stove piece, I lost my train of thought, lost my focus and ended up with 1,500 words on Mike Leach alone. Woops. I can’t quite say how that happened, but I guess I should just be thankful that when I did, I finished it all wearing pants. Needless to say, it was a weird experience, which leads me to wonder, is this how Mike Sherman feels when he wakes up every day?
Anyway, because of my love affair with Mike Leach, it left a lot of room, and a lot of leftover material from my college football coaching notebook. From Ohio State to Ole Miss, Arizona and Arizona State, now onto Texas A&M, college football coaches are coming and going at a rapid pace. Not nearly as a Mike Sherman team can blow another fourth quarter lead, but pretty close. (Woops, did I mention Sherman again? My bad!)
Here are some big-picture takeaways from the college football coaching carousel, and in addition below are my Championship Weekend picks.
Basically, look at this as a college football hodgepodge column.
Urban and Ohio State: First, it seems only appropriate to start with Urban Meyer and Ohio State. I already got most of my thoughts out on a podcast earlier this week with Ramzy Nasrallah from Eleven Warriors, as well as in my conference preview podcast with Adam Jacobi when we discussed the Big Ten title game.
Still, I do have a few lingering opinions on the situation.
The first is that like most of you, I think it’s a home run. This was the premiere free agent in the college coaching world, signing up for one of the glamour jobs in all of college football. Urban Meyer to Ohio State is as close as we’ll ever see to royalty in this sport, and my only wish is that we got a three-hour behind the scenes made for TV special about it like we did the Kardashian wedding (Of course I also hope that Urban and Ohio State make it longer than Kris Humphries and Kim did).
Personally though, I think the idea that Meyer is going to waltz in and run over the Big Ten is a bit unrealistic however. This is a team that still has a long way to go, and a lot of holes to fill, most notably on the offensive side of the ball. On my podcast Ramzy explained the huge gaps that the previous coaching regime left along the offensive line, and during this season, it was evident that outside Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes lacked truly elite offensive playmakers. DeVier Posey and Boom Herron helped over the final few games, but both will be gone next fall.
In addition, I also think that this is a much tougher Big Ten than people realize. Now obviously, it’ll never have the top to bottom talent of the SEC, but this also isn’t the conference that Jim Tressel ran roughshod over four or five years ago either. Michigan State has won 21 regular season games over the last two years. Wisconsin has turned itself into an annual nine or 10 win team. Michigan will only get better under Brady Hoke. Simply put, Urban Meyer is going to need more time than people realize. That doesn’t mean I don’t think he’ll be successful however.
But really, the thing I’m most excited about in the Urban to Ohio State move is the following: For the first time in a long time, the Big Ten is going to be cool again.
What do I mean by “cool?” Well, let’s get real for a second. This is a conference that prides itself on tradition, prides itself on running the ball and playing defense, and prides itself on being well, a bit boring. Seriously, as good as they are, is there really anything all that exciting about watching Michigan State, Wisconsin (especially pre-Russell Wilson) or Jim Tressel’s Ohio State teams? Not much, unless you like a lot of off-tackle runs, blitzes out of the 3-4, and 16-7 final scores.
Well, Urban meyer changes that. He’s a progressive coach, runs a progressive offense, and seems to be able to recruit and relate to the modern player. He’s young, good looking (believe me, I tried not to sound weird saying that) and confident. He’s got personality. Hell, he’s almost got an aura about him that most other guys don’t. With all due respect to Mark Dantonio, Bret Bielema and Kirk Ferentz, they’re good coaches. They don’t have an “aura” though.
Let’s think of it another way.
Say you were an 18-year-old high school recruit over the last 10 years, and you could have your choice of any college to play football at. For a while USC was the glamour school, and since, Florida, LSU and Alabama have supplanted them. Texas and Oklahoma offer a blend of history and tradition, and even Notre Dame was cool for a few years there when Charlie Weis and his “schematic advantage” rolled into town. Because of it, we saw virtually every elite athlete over the last decade (Reggie Bush, Adrian Peterson, Trent Richardson, Cam Newton, Jimmy Clausen, Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley, Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin, Patrick Peterson) choose one of those schools. There was something cool about those places. Again, there was an “aura” if you will.
But the Big Ten? Other than a few big names like Terrelle Pryor and Ted Ginn, they recruited mostly good, but not elite players, and certainly not in the bunches the other schools did. Unless you were from the Midwest, there was nothing inherently cool about spending four years of college ball playing in Columbus, Ann Arbor, Madison or Iowa City.
That changed on Monday morning and changed with Meyer.
He’s not only what Ohio State needed, but also too what the Big Ten did as well.
And I couldn’t be more excited.
The Mess At Texas A&M: For those of you who’ve been regular readers of this site, you know that I’ve been a little hard on Texas A&M through the months. And by “a little hard,” what I really mean is “I made fun of them mercilessly.”
In the end, feel free to blame on me, but part of it you can’t, with these last few months hammering that home.
My first problem with A&M (and please excuse me for being blunt) is this: Everyone involved with Texas A&M, from the fans, to the administration and everyone in between has a distorted perception on where this program really is, and where the team fits in the college football hierarchy. Simply put, since I started watching college football over a decade ago, Texas A&M has never, ever been nationally relevant. Sure they might crack the Top 25, and might win a bowl game, but hell; a lot of teams do the same. Whenever the discussion of the most nationally relevant teams comes up though, A&M is nowhere near the top. Quite frankly they’ve never been as long as I’ve been a college football fan.
The other thing that’s been abundantly clear to me is that at Texas A&M, the inmates (ie: the board of directors and administrators) are running the asylum. That was first made clear during the flirtation and courtship with the SEC, when Athletic Director Bill Byrne basically became a puppet for President Loftin Bowen. And it was also apparent to me last night, in the firing of Mike Sherman. Simply put, as much as I’ve made fun of Sherman through the years (and in this column specifically), I don’t agree with letting him go.
To all you Aggies fans ready to kill me on my opinion to keep Sherman, that’s fine, I get it. He’s a bumbling, stumbling fool, and lost more winnable games this past year than Nick Saban has his entire career. He was never considered an elite recruiter, elite talent developer, or elite game day coach. Nothing about him screamed “head coach,” and there was no guarantee that things would’ve been better next year at the start of play in the SEC. Quite frankly, chances are pretty good they would’ve been worse.
Except at the same time, let’s look at this from the other direction. I get that the school didn’t want to enter SEC play with the “Is Mike Sherman on the hot seat” chatter hanging over their heads. At the same time, let’s look at the alternative. Is it really better to have a young roster playing for an entirely new coaching staff, against what will undoubtedly be a much tougher schedule? Is it worth basically submarining this entire recruiting class to clean house? To me, the answer is no.
Then, there’s this: Why would anyone in their right mind want this job? Please, give me one logical explanation.
A&M fans, I know this is going to make you upset, but it’s true.
The truth is that for all the advantages this job brings (the recruiting base, the SEC, the resources), it also comes with the unrealistic expectations of the fan base, as the program gets set to enter the toughest division in the toughest conference of college football. Why would anyone want to sign up for year No. 1 in the SEC when it’s going to be a rebuilding project? Why would anyone want to sign up to play for an Athletic Director who clearly has no power and is basically a whipping boy for an out of control school President? Why would anyone want to sign up to play at a school that has the most unrealistic expectations of any program in the country?
Speaking of which, there’s this: A lot of people have told me, “Well, the new guy will have a longer leash because of the move to the SEC.”
Really? Because while that sounds great on paper, it isn’t practical. The truth is that this is a fast moving sport, and coaching stints are getting shorter by the year. Turner Gill was fired after two years this season. So too was Rob Ianello at Akron. Florida fans are already wondering if Will Muschamp is the right guy, and some Texas fans want Mack Brown gone less than 24 months after he won the BCS National Championship. So while it sounds good on paper that “the new guy is going to get time,” let’s see what happens after year one. And let’s see what happens when the new guy is losing big to Alabama, LSU and Auburn every fall. Let’s see how long the leash is then.
The point being, this: I think A&M fans and their administration are in for a rude awakening in this coaching search. I know the name everyone wants is Kevin Sumlin, except, well, if you’re Sumlin why do you want A&M? More importantly, why would you want to walk into that mess, especially if the Arizona State job is available? For whatever resources that Texas A&M has that Arizona State doesn’t, the Sun Devils do have one big advantage: They don’t play their games in the SEC West! If you’re Kevin Sumlin, wouldn’t you rather take a little less money to get a shot at playing Utah, Colorado and UCLA every year, rather than Alabama, Arkansas and LSU? I sure would. Same with Charlie Strong at Louisville. He has a team that could 10 or 11 games next year, why leave for A&M?
In the end, I fully expect this A&M coaching search to be long, drawn out and ugly. I fully expect the names to be different from who people expect, for the school to settle on someone the majority of fans aren’t happy with, and even then, for the school to be forced to overpay whomever it is that they get anyway. After all, who is walking into that mess at a bargain basement price? I sure wouldn’t.
Then the school gets to start the process they’ve been in for the last two decades, all over again. They get to start with an inexperienced coach, starting by losing too many games, start by not showing enough improvement, and finish by sending the next coach out the door before they even get comfortable.
Is it too early to start naming names for the 2014 Texas A&M coaching search yet?
A couple more closing coaching thoughts on:
Ole Miss: Ultimately, I don’t know who Ole Miss will end up with, but I do know this: Like Texas A&M, I suspect they’re going to have overpay whomever it is they get to come coach their football team. I love Ole Miss and their fans, but this is a tough job, and not sure anyone in their right mind would fully want to take.
As for the candidates, well damn, I’m not sold on any of them. I like Kirby Smart, like his pedigree and like the staff that he’d be able to put together after all these years at Alabama. At the same time, I’ve got wonder how much coaching does he actually does versus how much he is simply Nick Saban’s “right-hand man.” How much of his responsibilities every Saturday basically boil down to, “Coach, that blitz sounds great! Let’s run it!”
As for Gus Malzahn, ehh; I like him, but don’t love him. He’s not an elite recruiter, hasn’t been in coaching long enough to have a lot of contacts to put together a great staff, and well, Auburn’s offense wasn’t nearly what it was last year. I don’t really blame him as much as others for that (besides losing Cam Newton, Auburn lost basically their whole offensive line), but well, the bloom is definitely off the Malzahn rose. I’m not sure giving him his first head coaching job in the SEC West is best for anyone involved.
Which leaves me with the guy who I think is the best candidate, who I’ve also heard is the last guy that Ole Miss fans want: Southern Miss’s Larry Fedora.
Again, I really think that Fedora might be the best option if only because the school is fast running out of any other options. Still, I’ve talked to enough Ole Miss fans to know that they look at Southern Miss as their little brother, and would look at hiring Fedora as dating your little brother’s ex-girlfriend. Like it or not, that is the reality in Oxford.
Still, what other choice might they be left with?
Arizona State: I think the play here is Sumlin, and I think this is where he ends up. Again, these college coaches aren’t dummies, and really, I don’t understand why any head coach would put their career on life supporting by going to the SEC West when there are better options. And by “better options,” what I actually mean is “The Pac-12 South,” where this year’s champion just so happened to finish 6-6, and where Sumlin could win quickly with the talent leftover by Dennis Erickson.
Speaking of that talent, I’m being greedy here. What I really want, is to see what kind of magic Sumlin could work with Brock Osweiler as his starting quarterback. Is that too much to ask?
Arizona: For obvious reasons I love, love, love the Rich Rod hire. It’s right up there as an “A” in my book along with Leach to Washington State and Meyer to Columbus.
Simply put, while it might be a bit of revisionist history on my part, I’ve also seen what Rodriguez can do given time, and support from an administration. And what he can do is win a ton of football games. I saw it with my own eyes at West Virginia, and as one of my colleagues at Crystal Ball Run Tom Perry told me, “If Rich Rod had just stayed at West Virginia, they would’ve built statues for him.” The guy was that good, which made his fall at Michigan that much tougher to watch. Had he stayed around at West Virginia, the Mountaineers would likely be mentioned amongst the best programs in college football right now.
Now the only real question that remains for me with Rich Rod is this: What is going to become of that 3-3-5 defense? It obviously didn’t work at Michigan, but then again, that’s not totally surprising. When you’re playing in a conference with so many power run teams (as mentioned above), it’s pretty hard to slow them down when you’ve got so many defensive backs on the field (Then again, it’s also hard to slow down anyone when Greg Robinson is your defensive coordinator. Yes, anyone who knows me knew I’d have to sneak that one in there).
Still, with all the spread-based offensive teams in the Pac-12 (Oregon, Washington State, Arizona State likely), it’s hard not to see the 3-3-5 at least being a little more effective, if not an all-out success. The biggest question of course is who will run it? There are already rumors that Jeff Casteel may come out to Arizona from West Virginia.
To me, Arizona is a Pac-12 South sleeping giant.
UCLA: Don’t even ask. I have no idea what their budget is, what their resources are and what their timeframe on finding a coach is.
All I’ll say is that they better move fast. College coaches are flying off the shelves!
Now, let’s get to the Championship Week picks. With a very likely Alabama-LSU rematch in the BCS title game, this week doesn’t carry as much weight as it usually does. Still, that doesn’t mean we can’t make some selections.
As always, I’m picking against the spread, with the point totals provided by WagerWeb.com.
Now, let’s get to the picks!
OREGON (-31) over UCLA: Friday, 8:00 p.m. Fox
What, you don’t think the video below inspired UCLA’s players? You don’t think they’re going to give old Slick Rick Neuheisel his one final moment in the sunshine with an upset win and send him off into the sunset?
Yeh, me neither.
UConn (+9) over Cincinnati: Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ESPN
Remember that episode of Seinfeld where George started going against his instinct and doing the “opposite” of everything he thought he should do?
Yeh, well that’s Big East football this year. Just when you think things are starting to make sense, just when you believe you’ve got this conference figured out… UConn goes on the road and wins as a nine-point underdog. Or something.
Truthfully, I’ve given up trying to figure out this league. At this point, I just think about what I expect to happen, then choose the opposite.
HOUSTON (-14) over Southern Miss: Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ABC
Again, I cannot emphasize this enough: If I’m Kevin Sumlin, I would continue to use the Texas A&M job as leverage to drive up my price tag, before eventually sucking every last dollar out of the Arizona State athletic department. Then I go to Tempe and put up about a billion points next year with Brock Osweiler leading my offense.
As far as I can tell, the Kevin Sumlin Extortion watch starts Saturday. If it hasn’t already.
BAYLOR (-2 ½) over Texas: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ABC
Don’t let the fact that the Longhorns put the final nail in the Mike Sherman coffin fool you: Texas really just isn’t that good.
Assuming RGIII suits up, give me him and give me the points. He could clinch the Heisman here.
LSU (-13 ½) over Georgia: Saturday, 4:00 p.m. CBS
Georgia fans, please understand that this is nothing personal, and this is nothing against you. I like your team. I picked them to win the East in August. Plus, I totally dig Aaron Murray’s first name (not to mention his smile).
But I’ve also continually picked against LSU in this column, and have continually gotten burned. I thought Auburn could cover the points against the Tigers. I thought Arkansas could do the same. And well, LSU beat those teams by a combined score of approximately 372-10.
Point being, I think your team can keep things close. But I can’t bet against the Bayou Bengals. Not again. My bank account can’t afford it.
Virginia Tech (-7) over Clemson: Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ESPN
I’m not as anti-Clemson as most. At the same time they’re a young, beat-up, worn-down team, that probably wasn’t quite as good as we thought to begin with. Their offense was always talented, but their defense never that good, and it has showed the last few weeks.
The way I see it, this team needs to get some rest, get into bowl season, and then get into 2012. At that point, they really will be one of college football’s most dangerous teams.
Right now though? They’re going to get stomped by the Hokies.
OKLAHOMA STATE (-2 ½) over Oklahoma: Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ABC
My biggest pet peeve in all of sports is when fans say, “Until the other team proves they can do it…I gotta pick against them.” I hate, hate, hate that.
Why? Because this is sports and anything can happen! Players change, coaches change, sports is an ever-evolving thing, meaning that whatever happened last year is completely independent of what is happening now. Just because the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series this year, it gives them no inherent advantage next year. And just because Oklahoma has dominated Oklahoma State in years past, means nothing in 2011.
Because of it, I think Oklahoma State wins this game, and it’s not even close. They are at home, have the more talented team, and Oklahoma is only a shell of who they were two months ago. Dominique Whaley is out with injury. Ryan Broyles is out with injury. The defense is banged up.
And the Pokes have had 15 days to think about the loss to Iowa State.
They’ll take it out on the Sooners Saturday.
Wisconsin (-9 ½) over Michigan State: Saturday, 8:17 p.m. Fox
As a general rule, I love Mark Dantonio teams, and usually don’t like betting against them. Plus this point spread has seemed eerily high all week, which is strange, since Michigan State beat Wisconsin earlier in the year.
But then I started thinking back to the first game between these two teams… I mean really started thinking about it. Wisconsin was on the road, lost Montee Ball for a big chunk to injury, and Russell Wilson played what was his worst game in a Badgers uniform. And guess what? They still were one play away from forcing overtime.
In the end, on a neutral field, give me the Badgers.
On Wisconsin… to the Rose Bowl!
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